SAN FRANCISCO -- Tesla CEO Elon Musk said robotaxis with no human drivers would be available in some U.S. markets next year, continuing a habit of bold pronouncements that have excited many investors while often missing deadlines.
"Probably two years from now we'll make a car with no steering wheels or pedals," Musk predicted, while acknowledging he is often late to meet aggressive targets.
Central to this promise is a new microchip for self-driving vehicles unveiled by Musk on Monday during a webcast presentation. Made by Samsung Electronics in Texas, the chip now in all vehicles is designed to give Tesla an edge over rivals and show its massive investment in autonomous driving -- described by Musk as "basically our entire expense structure" -- will pay off.
Tesla switched over to its own chips and self-driving computer from Nvidia’s for the Model S and Model X about a month ago, and for the Model 3 about 10 days ago, Musk told investors at Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto, California. Samsung will manufacture the chips in Austin, Texas, he said.
Nvidia disputed some of the claims Tesla made in its presentation, saying that the EV maker was comparing a whole computer’s performance with that of one chip. A full system based on multiple Nvidia chips would be more powerful than what Tesla showed off, the company said.
Still, Nvidia did offer praise for Tesla, saying it had just “raised the bar for self-driving computers.”
The webcast presentation came two days before Tesla is expected to announce a quarterly loss on fewer deliveries of its Model 3 sedan, which represents Tesla's attempt to become a volume automaker.
After launching the event with detailed technical descriptions of Tesla's progress on hardware and software by top executives, Musk began hawking the Model 3 and its potential.
"The fundamental message consumers should be taking away today is it's financially insane to buy something other than a Tesla. It's like buying a horse," saying Tesla was the only company to have a full self-driving suite of hardware.
Tesla's use of the term "full self-driving" garners criticism, as it sells such an option today that is not yet "Level 4," or fully autonomous by industry standards, in which the car can handle all aspects of driving in most circumstances with no human intervention. Musk has said that with the hardware complete, improvements in software will allow vehicles to fully drive themselves in future.
The technology faces many regulatory hurdles both in Washington and from local governments.
Global automakers, large technology companies and startups are developing self-driving - including Alphabet's Waymo and Uber Technologies -- but experts say it will be years before the systems are ready for prime time.
"A year from now we'll have over a million cars with full self-driving, software, everything," Musk predicted.
Tesla has been working on a self-driving chip since 2016 and Musk had previously forecast that cars would be fully self-driving by 2018, a target Tesla has missed.
Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said Tesla's robotaxi target was "impressive" but added that investors will be concerned by "the practicality and financial implications of this endeavor especially with Waymo miles ahead of the autonomous competition."
More pressing for analysts, he said, were concerns about demand for the Model 3 and whether Tesla may seek new financing.